A quiet achiever

Bless The Child

Religious thriller Bless the Child almost works.

Psychiatric nurse Maggie (Kim Basinger) returns home one evening to find her sister Jenna (Angela Bettis) waiting for her with her newborn daughter, Cody. Maggie discovers a syringe and spoon in Jenna’s bag, and promises to help her: "But first you have to get off these drugs!" Hmm – usually addicts require help while they are getting off the drugs.

Jenna of course flees into the night, leaving Maggie to raise Cody on her own. Cut to six years later, and it turns out that Cody (Holliston Coleman) is autistic, although Maggie believes she is special in another way. In fact Cody is something of a prophet, a child with a gift for leading people closer to God.

Cody is so gifted that an evil cult, masquerading as a self-help group for youth, wish to get their hands on Cody to use her for converting people to satanism. But it’s taken them a while to find the right child; cult members have been killing a series of other six year olds born on December 13, 1993, the day that the star of Jaakov shone over New York – apparently that was meant to be the sign of the birth of this special child.

Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell) plays the evil cult leader very well. He tracks down Jenna and marries her in order to get closer to Cody; when Eric and Jenna sweep into Maggie’s home one day to retrieve the child Jenna hasn’t seen since abandoning her, Maggie is understandably riled and a little suspicious.

Christina Ricci plays a small role as a junky trying to escape from the cult; she’s able to warn Maggie that they are planning to sacrifice Cody if she won’t turn to Satan. With the occasional assistance of cult-specialist and detective John Travis (Jimmy Smits) – and various angels – Maggie sets out to save her niece.

There are some beautiful and eerie special effects. The rats swarming around Cody’s bed in a dream sequence are memorable, while Maggie’s ephemeral visions of flying demons are absolutely superb.

The film has a quiet, other-worldly feel to it, and although it doesn’t match the class of The Sixth Sense – to which it has been compared – it is very watchable, if a little dragged out. There seem to be far too many scenes of Maggie and Cody walking along the street holding hands, for instance. And one blooper to look out for: Maggie decides to take Cody shopping because it’s such a beautiful day. When they go outside, however, it’s clearly been raining.

The performances of Basinger and Smits lack energy – it’s as if they’ve been sucked into the quietness of the film themselves and are struggling to show any real personality. Coleman, however, is compelling, particularly in a tense rooftop scene where Sewell tries to get her to jump off if she really believes in God. "You first," she eventually says in a brilliant comeback line.

Bless the Child will draw audiences in, but might lose them along the way. It’s a film worth catching for its beauty, and it will have you clutching your armrest in its more frightening moments. Ultimately, however, it’s not quite satisfying, with an ending that’s just a bit too convenient – and it’s a shame that teenagers wearing black and sporting piercings are stereotyped as being Satanists.

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